Hong Kong Digital is sponsored by Poker Industries. Please see the Hong Kong Digital home page for a special offer from Poker Industries to Hong Kong Digital readers.

Issue #179a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES September 29th, 2003

Disciples of the 36th Chamber
(1985; Shaw Brothers)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Pik lik sap git
Mandarin: Pi li shi jie
English: Thunderous Ten Heroes

This little-seen third entry in the 36TH CHAMBER series finds Gordon Lau Kar-fai returning to the role of San Te and, while the film suffers slightly by comparison with its predecessors, it remains a well-crafted and entertaining effort. The impetuous Fong Sai-yuk (Hsiao Hou) is a major thorn in the side of everyone, from his teacher to his fellow students to his family. When the youth goes out of his way to insult some Manchurians (led by the film's director, Lau Kar-leung), the Ching officials order that Fong be turned over to them or all the Han people in the area will suffer the consequences. Fong's martially gifted mother (Lily Li Li-li) comes up with an alternative, sending Fong and his two brothers to Shaolin Temple, a place where the Manchus dare not make trouble. San Te (Gordon Lau) is assigned the unenviable task of training Fong, who has received martial instruction practically from birth and is almost the monk's equal. Fong tries various methods of escape and, one evening, he disrupts a Ching celebration, prompting the governor (Jason Pai Piao) to invite the lad to an upcoming martial arts tournament. Of course, this is not a rare display of Manchu benevolence but a plot to learn more about the secret Shaolin techniques.

While most kung fu fans have admired Hsiao Hou's skills in such widely available Shaw Brothers pictures like MAD MONKEY KUNG FU, LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA, and THE EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, the return of this film to circulation allows one to see him shine in a production centered solely around his character. His is one the most manic and acrobatic portrayals of Fong Sai-yuk on record, making Jet Li Lianjie, Alexander Fu Sheng, Meng Fei, and Willie Chi Tian-sheng seem almost sedate by comparison. As tends to happen with screenplays where Fong is the protagonist, the viewer is soon vexed by his naivety and bullheadedness. These are innate qualities of the character but they lead to frustrating contrivances, and the rest of the storyline here is old hat. Lau Kar-leung utilizes a bit more wirework than usual but the various fights are still invigorating and should disappoint no one. It is also an extra plus for the film to have Lily Li cast as Fong's mom. The actress brings all of the authority and humanity to her portrayal that she previously mustered for her turn as Wong Yue's equally remarkable mother in Lau's much admired EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN. Many familiar faces can be seen in support here, including Lee Hoi-sang, Chan Shen, Sun Chien, Power Lee King-chu, and Lau Siu-kwan.

Cover art courtesy Intercontinental.

Hsiao Hou (left) and Gordon Lau. Image courtesy Intercontinental.

Lily Li. Image courtesy Intercontinental.
Intercontinental #100253 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 5.1

Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks (both post-synced)

Optional Subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian

12 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Clips

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

89 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains mild violence

DVD menu courtesy Intercontinental.

Ontario: PG
Singapore: PG

The presentation is nice and clean but, as with many Celestial transfers of late, overly soft in spots. The original audio has its limitations on the upper end and these are still apparent in the re-mix, which tries to expand the soundstage by adding background foley; the results are adequate. The usual supplements are present and accounted for: video promo spots, the poster, a photo gallery, and skimpy bios/filmographies.

DISCIPLES OF THE 36TH CHAMBER is available at Poker Industries.

Having problems printing this review with Netscape? Go to the File option in the Netscape Task Bar, click the Page Setup from the sub-menu and make sure that in the Page Options listings, the Black Text box is clicked. This should resolve the "no text" printing problem.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2003. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com